Washington: The US Senate on Thursday blocked dueling plans to reopen shuttered federal agencies — a fresh setback in efforts to end a crippling month-long government shutdown that have stalled over President Donald Trump’s controversial wall on the Mexico border.
The first measure backed by Trump — which would have reopened the government, funded the wall and included some immigration policy changes — earned 50 votes to 47 against, but it needed 60 to advance.
A competing proposal by Senate Democrats that would open government through February 8 without funding Trump’s wall, and leave room for border security negotiations, also failed to move forward, with 52 “Yes” votes to 44 against.
The legislative deadlock leaves Congress and the president red-faced and adrift as hundreds of thousands of federal workers, some reliant on food banks to make ends meet, are about to miss a second paycheck.
Trump was already smarting, after being forced into shelving his annual State of the Union address by top Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, until the government is fully operational.
Though politically bruised, Trump stood firm on his demand for billions of dollars in funding for a border wall as part of an overall budget package.
“Very simply, without a Wall it all doesn’t work,” he tweeted at Pelosi on Thursday before the Senate votes.
“We will not Cave!”
The shutdown is now in its 34th day, with federal workers left unpaid across the country and in US installations abroad — and the knock-on effects affecting millions more.
As acrimony in Washington grew, lawmakers across the political spectrum were left searching in vain for an exit strategy for the longest-ever halt to federal operations, as furloughed government employees and contractors vented their fury on Capitol Hill.
“There’s no excuse for Senate Republicans not to pass this legislation,” Pelosi told reporters, referring to the Democratic plan. “Who can say no to that?”
But many did say no, it turns out.
Opening government and negotiating later on border security, as Democrats have long argued, “is not going to cut it,” Republican Senator Richard Shelby said before the votes.
He then sounded an ominous note: “Is this the beginning of the end, or is it just the end of the beginning? We shall find out.”
The air travel industry issued dire warnings, including one from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
“In our risk-averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break,” NATCA president Paul Rinaldi said in a statement.
“It is unprecedented.”
Second paycheck missed
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the chamber that “it’s time to make a deal.”
Most Democrats oppose direct funds for wall construction, but some have begun publicly advocating for negotiating a solution that includes boosted border funding, including for border structures.
And Pelosi herself said Thursday that “we will have some of our proposals for what comes next” in upcoming legislation offerings.
“Look, I think physical barriers are part of the solution,” Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, told Fox News.
“We want to make sure that people who come into the United States are authorized to do so,” he added. “We’re for border security and I think we can get there.”
The shutdown, which has seen some 800,000 federal employees left without pay for a month, was triggered by Trump’s refusal to sign funding bills in December, in retaliation for Democratic opposition to funds for extending walls along the US-Mexico border.
The House, now controlled by Democrats, has passed multiple bills that would open government, but the Republican-run Senate is aligned — at least for now — with Trump’s border wall push.